Sunday, October 12, 2008


I was talking to a friend ‘S’ in SL the other day. Well IM’ing.. and the conversation turned to accents. He has spent time in the US. It turned up some points I figured might make a post, so here goes…

Something that often surprises me when in the US is that, in short interactions, people don’t necessarily seem to spot my accent. In longer conversation people are often curious about my accent, but can have difficulty identifying where I come from.

Now I have what I think of as a basic (and I like to imagine reasonably educated) SE England accent, maybe overlaid by a hint of ‘transatlantic’ that I think I noticed heading west we I passed the Azores coming back. It tends to do this when exposed to US accents for more than a few days.

The thing is Americans don’t generally get that I am from the UK from hearing me speak, and it is not just with me, it clearly happens with other Brits too.

If pushed to guess Americans often tag me as Bostonian, now I have not been to Boston yet so can’t say if I do sound vaguely Bostonian or not.

If they guess at a non US origin they almost always go for Australian, with a fall back position of New Zealand. Again, this is not just with me. In any case it’s ages since I watched and Neighbours so you can’t blame too much exposure to Oz soaps ^_^

Polling my friends and acquaintances this seems to be the general rule, I wonder if it is more widely true.

I wondered if it might be something to do with the movies. It’s like the average US citizen hears cut glass accents in old films and from bad guys, oh and awful ‘cockney’ ones, like Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’ and figure these are it.

Or is it that we just sound more American these days?

Mind you I think many Brits are often just as bad trying to tell a Canadian accent from a US one…


Crushed said...

I find my accent can be a problem in conversation with those up north.

Its the way they say their 'a's. Or how we say them. And our 'o's as well I think. I say 'today', they think I say 'to die'. I say 'no', they thank I say 'now'.

And I think we instinctively drop more consonants round here than anywhere else.

I'm not sure whether those outside the UK realise just how much your speech pins you down in the UK, to class, to city, to part of city even.

Devonshire Dumpling said...

I have been told so many times I'm South African when I am a born and bred Londoner, so heavens knows what my accent actually sounds like to foreigners.

jmb said...

A topic dear to my heart as I probably have a very strange accent after living as an expat for so many years.

Many people in North America pick me as a Brit which is rather amusing, since I still really have very Aussie vowels but I think I have a lot of Canadian expressions. My accent definitely deepens when I am in Australia however.

Now telling a Canadian accent from an American accent is not easy for us either. Just as Canadians have some regional accents so to do some Americans and those are often obvious but I think on the West Coast accentwise you would not easily be able to pick a Canadian from an American by their accent.

I'm really careful not to assume anything but usually try to ask where are you from, rather than make an assumption. I learned that by offending several New Zealanders by asking them what part of Australia they were from.

That said I can never understand how people here do not recognize someone as being South African for to me that is a very unique accent, not confused with any other.

CherryPie said...

I think this will make you smile. At work a few years ago I often had to contact a certain company in Newcastle. The people I spoke to had varying degrees of the Geordie accent. If I wasn't at my desk and my colleagues picked up the phone I was always left a message that someone from Scotland had phoned me. They couldn't even understand the accent enough to get the name of the person who had phoned.

It always made me laugh a lot :-)

xl said...

I have been to British Columbia and Ontario, where the accents are similar to US northwestern and upper mid-west accents. The give away is, eventually, the soft "oo" pronunciation of "ou." And the "eh?" endings.

US: "Out and about."
Canada: "Oot and aboot, eh?"


Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very interesting. I think of a Canadian accent as "softer" than a US one.

Ellee Seymour said...

I love different accepts, as long as good grammar is used. I think I could tell the difference between and American and Canadian accent too.

Nunyaa said...

Was speaking about this very topic to someone the other day. I often joke that I do not have an accent. Think the Southern Usa accent is the best, followed by Irish and then South African. I find it very hard to understand the many different accents from the UK.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Wow. AS bit of a mixed bag of experiences here. It is clear from the comments that certain accents often cause problems in mutual understanding.

Maybe not so much the actual accents as the listener's familiarity with that particular accent.

Dr.John said...

When I was in England I noticed there were different accents in different parts of the country so perhaps there is no "British" accent.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

Dr John, there is no single 'British' accent, especially given that 'Britain' includes Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

These each have lots of different accents accents.

So you could say someone has a British accent if they have any of these, but there is no single accent.